A YEAR IN THE WETLANDS
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Like most good things in life, my experience at Emeralda Marsh began with a rat (well, 2 rats actually- thanks, Randy), but that's another story. This fantastic variety of habitats, comprising about 6500 acres, is a work in progress by the St. Johns River Water Management District, converting what was once agricultural land back into productive, vibrant wetlands that not only provide a home to huge numbers of resident and migratory birds, but a plethora of other wildlife as well. In the following pages, I'll try to give you a feel for the flavor of the place, and especially its incredible avifauna.
Since January, 2000,
I have been conducting weekly bird censuses in the range of habitats encompassed
by one small area of the Emeralda Marsh Conservation Area, known as Area
3, or the Lake Griffin Flow-Way. This man-made system of levees,
impoundments and pumping systems is designed to remove water from Lake
Griffin, circulate it through nearly 2000 acres of marsh and open-water
habitats, and eventually return it to the lake in a purer state.
In the process, the nutrients removed stimulate primary productivity in
a fascinating variety of aquatic and semi-aquatic habitats. This
primary productivity forms the base of the food web that culminates in
the predominant top-level consumers, the birds.
Let's begin with the habitat. On the left is a view
from the north end of the flow-way, looking out
over the Yale-Griffin Canal. Water flows into
Area 3 from this region . The bonnet beds in the
canal are a good place to see Purple Gallinules
and Limpkins, among other species. From here, water
flows through several impoundments separated by levees,
and ultimately is pumped back into Lake Griffin. Habitats
include open water, areas of emergent vegetation, and a
variety of types of wet and dry marsh, as well as islands
of oak-palm hammock and corridors of hardwoods along
some of the levees.
The engineering behind this
system is complex and massive. Huge pumps channel water
between impoundments, and eventually return it to Haines Creek along the south end of the flow-way (below right), and from there it returns to Lake Griffin.
|It's probably the rich mosaic of interspersed habitats that occur throughout the system that make it so attractive and exciting to me, as well as to the birds and other wildlife. To the right and below are a few images of hammock where it meets more open habitats.|
In the following pages, I'll show you some of the wildlife I've seen and photographed to date.
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